Merging faith with Jesus by Pastor Ron

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We Interrupt This World…

You’ve probably seen the video on Fox News, CNN or the evening news: busy shoppers at a mall, taking a rest at the food court, get interrupted by a suprise redition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”… It’s a viral video that’s taken the world by storm on YouTube that I think makes an important point during this holiday season.

What I love about this video, besides some amazing Christmas music, is the way that the shoppers at the mall get caught off guard by the suprise chorus that interrupts their normal, busy day of shopping. Could you imagine being part of the crowd when your lunch of pizza or nachos is interuppted by someone jumping up next to you singing? I’m sure there were a few cell phone calls and text messages that abruptly ended as well amid that chaos that followed in the first few seconds while everyone tried to decipher just what was going on around them.

What fascinates me about this suprise rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the mall is how it helps me picture what the scene must have looked like on that night outside of Bethlehem when the shepherds were busy going about their ordinary, everyday lives of “keeping watch over the flock by night” when suddenly an angelic vision broke into their world. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10-14).

That’s one night working third shift that was forever changed. One moment you’re sitting there watching sheep out in the cold, night air, the next, you’re hearing angels proclaim that the Messiah has come to save the world. You could almost hear an announcer say, “We interrupt this world for an important message!” By the end of the night, the shepherds weren’t out in the fields anymore, they had heard the angels, they had gone to see the Christ Child, and now they were busy going around town telling their friends and neighbors what they had just experienced. (Kind of like the folks in the food court who felt compelled to take pictures and video tape the Hallelujah Chorus so their friends on Facebook and Twitter might experience the crazy thing that just happened to them at the mall!) Let’s face it this was a Kodak moment both then and now.

Yet, what I really appreciate about the angelic visit to the shepherds is how it took the world by suprise. God interrupted the world to share an important announcement. He had a Christmas present that was going to shake things up a bit. It was a baby lying in a manger, who was intended to one day redeem the world while nailed on a cross. Now that’s something you don’t expect to see everyday, do you?

Perhaps it’s that rude interruption by our God that makes me chuckle everytime I watch this YouTube video taken at that mall. The folks had only planned on a busy day of shopping to get ready for the holiday season. Then everything changed. We think we have this world all figured out. And then, God moves into town and changes everything! During this Christmas season you and I are a lot more like the mall shoppers and shepherds than what we realize. We say, ” I’ve heard, the Christmas story. I know how it turns out.” God says, “But I’ve got a Christmas gift for you, right now, that’s going to shake your world upside down!”

I need to experience the interruption of Christmas in my life this year in a real, powerful way. Maybe you do too! Wouldn’t it be great if we could share the Christmas message like the angels? Perhaps this Christmas you and I might follow the lead of these folks at the mall and interrupt someone else’s world to share some “good news of great joy” that might shake up their day and give them a Kodak moment to share. Now that would be fun, wouldn’t it?


Marked by the Cross

“When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

Anyone who has ever had their ear (or some other body part) pierced or got a tattoo understands that these events leave a permanent mark on one’s body. Sure you can take the earring out, but the mark remains. Tattoos are hard to cover up. Their design remains imprinted in your skin for the rest of your life.

The power of the cross has a similar effect on us as piercings and tattoos. The love of God, shed through Jesus Christ on the cross, the Apostle Paul writes, “forgave us all our sins.” “He took it away nailing it to the cross.”

This forgiveness of your sin and mine was not a temporary thing. It is a permanent thing. Christ’s death marks you and me for life! Nothing can take that love away once we put our faith in Jesus. Nothing!

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today begins the 40 day season of Lent that reminds of God’s love for us in the power of the cross. In churches all over the world, pastors will mark Christians on their foreheads with the mark of an ash stain cross. True, it is a temporary mark, but it signifies a mark that Jesus has left on our lives that is lasting. When Jesus died, he took our sins, that lead to death, with him so that we might have life. “Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus promises in John 14:19. This is no hollow promise. This is an eternal promise. It pierces us real deep, deeper than anything else. This is real love. This is the love of our God for you and me.

If you receive ashes today in an Ash Wednesday service somewhere, wear them proudly for all the world to see. Let your friends and neighbors know how the cross of Christ has marked you forever. If you can’t attend such a service, burn some cardboard, some dry leaves, anything, and make ashes for yourself so that you can smear the ash stain cross on yourself.

Take a stand today. Show off your living faith. Show off your Savior. Let his love mark you for the world to see. Amen.


Your Place at the Manger

What’s your favorite way to celebrate Christmas? Is it going out to see the Christmas lights lighting up the neighborhood? Is it going Christmas caroling to shut-ins or friends? Is it spending time around the Christmas tree with loved ones or attending Christmas Eve services? I love all of those traditions, but the tradition that means the most to me is when I can put on a Christmas CD, turn out the lights, ignite a couple of candles and spend some time just gazing at the Nativity scene in our home with traditional Christmas carols quietly playing in the background. It is then that I can quiet myself and just focus on the miarcle of the Christ child.

As I watch the Nativity scene by candle light, I often wonder what it was like to be in that stable on the first Christmas Eve when baby Jesus was born. What was it like for Mary and Joseph to hold the tiny baby in their arm and know that the child they held, their child, was the Savior of the world? What was it like to touch his little newborn hands that would one day heal the sick and and be pierced with nails for our sins?

I also wonder, what was it like for the shepherds, who were working the late shift, to be visited by a choir or angels proclaiming that the Messiah had been born, and then find the babe, just as the angel had told them, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger?

As I gaze upon the Nativity set up in our dining room, I wonder what was it like to be a witness there at the manger 2,000 years ago. For Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the animals were blessed with the miracle encounter of our living God born in the flesh. Oh, how I wish that I could have shared in the experience.

But then, I remember the words that the angels told the shepherds on that night so long, long ago: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” (Luke 2:10)

“All the people.” That includes me. That includes you too. Jesus is born for us. We too, are invited to join the rest of the Christmas cast at the manger. It doesn’t matter if we stood in the stable 2,000 years ago or gaze upon the manger tonight. This gift from God is the gift of new life that was meant for everyone. It is a gift that is born anew for anyone who seeks to find the Christ child for themselves.

That is when I realize that my Nativity scene isn’t complete when I set up the animals, the shepherds, the Wise Men, or the angels. It is only complete when you take your place among them, gaze upon the miracle lying in the manger, and rejoice in the awesome love of our living God for yourself.

That, as Linus, from Peanuts, would say, “Is what Christmas is really all about…”


Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. You can too!

I’ve got a confession to make. I celebrate Hanukkah…and I’m not Jewish! For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with this biblical holiday. Maybe it’s because Jesus celebrated it himself. (See John 10:22-23) Maybe it’s because I find that Hanukkah helps prepare me for a deeper celebration of Christmas. In fact, I’d like to be bold enough to suggest that if more Christians celebrated Hanukkah then perhaps we’d have an easier time keeping Christ in Christmas during the holiday season this year!

Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, is a biblical holiday that originated in 165 B.C. during the period between the times that the Old & New Testaments were written when Judas Maccabee and a band of Jewish freedom fighters freed Judea from Greek occupation and the Temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated to the Lord as recorded in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59. As the temple was being re-dedicated, tradition has it that a miracle occurred. There was only enough purified oil to light the Temple menorah for one day, but instead it lasted eight days until more could be produced. This miracle is the basis for Jews lighting menorahs each night during the eight nights of Hanukkah.

In many ways, the Jews faced the same dilemma that we face this Christmas season. Their culture was being secularized as the Greeks tried to crowd God out of public life in Judea. We face the same thing today. Have you noticed how our culture is white washing everything referring to God, faith, and Jesus from Americana. The 10 Commandments have been stripped from our court houses and prayer as vanished from our schools. Even in this Christmas season, we have “Holiday trees” instead of “Christmas trees” and nativity scenes are disappearing from the public squares because people are afraid that any reference to God might offend. I work at Meijer as my “paying” job. I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that there seems to be something missing from the plethera of holiday decorations that you can buy: Jesus, who is the very reason for the season. Jesus has been moved to the sidelines, while Santa, snowmen, reindeer, and the like continue to take more and more of the prime retail focus. Within a few years, Jesus may disappear from the Christmas section all together!

Judas Maccabee noticed. He noticed how the Greeks tried to strip his people, his culture of their God given faith and identity. The last straw came when the Greeks even dared to place an idol of the Greek god Zeus in the Temple of the Lord. That’s when it happened. Judas led the revolt. He would not let God be deleted from his world! Judea was freed. The Temple was restored. The menorah was relit. God was given the place of numero uno once again.

This Christmas season, if we really want Jesus our Savior to be at the center of our celebrations, perhaps we ought to consider the story of Hanukkah as a challenge to follow. Perhaps we need to be like Judas Maccabee and spend time cleansing our “spiritual temples” of the distractions that attempt to overshadow the Babe of Bethlehem so that the light of Christ might shine brightly in our lives for all to see. I like to use the eight days of Hanukkah as an intentional time in the midst of the Advent season to prepare my “temple” so that Jesus can truly make himself at home in my life.

Finally, I believe that lighting the menorah during Hanukkah can help us better understand the One who has come to be the Light of the world. At the center of the Hanukkah menorah is a ninth candle lifted above the others, called the “Servant Candle,” that is used to light the other eight candles. Messianic Jews claim the “Servant Candle” represents Jesus the Messiah who came as a servant “who gives light to all who allow themselves to shine for God” (Matthew 20:28, John 8:12, Psalm 27:1). How brightly does Jesus shine in your life today? Maybe the eight nights of Hanukkah can give Jesus a chance to rekindle his light and love in your life.

Hanukkah isn’t just a holiday for Jews. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. You can too! Maybe it’s time we re-discovered some of the Jewish roots of our faith and make Hanukkah a time to help prepare ourselves for the Christ of Christmas.

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What can my family and I do to celebrate Hanukkah? Follow this link for online Hanukkah games and coloring pages that your family can do together.

Also, I discovered this Hanukkah commercial on Youtube. I wish Christians could be as bold in declaring what Christmas really means to the world as this Jewish group does in sharing the power of God’s message through Hanukkah.


It’s a small, small world

Have you noticed? Our world is shrinking! The world used to seem so huge. People who lived in far away lands seemed, well, far away! But not anymore! With cable news, cell phones, the internet, YouTube, email and Facebook, our world is shrinking right before our eyes. There’s a lot of truth to that old Disney song, “It’s A Small World After All.” Today we can interact and stay connected with people all over the world in real time.

This weekend, people of faith have a chance to experience one of the advantages of our shrinking planet. On Sunday, Jesus followers all over the globe will celebrate World Communion Sunday. On World Communion Sunday, Christians of every language and every nationality will gather together breaking bread at the Lord’s Supper and loudly proclaim with one voice as the Apostle Paul did nearly 2,000 years ago in Ephesians 4:5-6 that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War there was “a shot heard around the world.” This weekend on World Communion Sunday, there will be praise heard around world as Jesus followers from a multitude of nations join hands and make a mighty rumble of praise to our God. The writer of Psalms foresaw faith in this internet age when he wrote, “Shout for joy to the Lord , all the earth. Worship the the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God” (Psalm 100:1-3).

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all connected together as global citizens and as children of God our Father. On World Communion Sunday you and I have the chance to cast aside the name brands that divide the Church into Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Nazarenes, Evangelical Association, independent, pentecostal, etc. and just be who all Christians really are: Jesus followers saved by grace at the foot of the cross. World Communion Sunday allows us to celebrate Jesus and our faith together on this globally internet connected planet called Earth.

Want to join in on this global celebration? It’s easy. Attend worship at the church or your choice on Sunday and share in the broken bread and the cup around the Lord’s table. As you do, pause to sense that you are a part of a global event. For 24 hours, from one side of our planet to the other, Jesus followers will lift up the name of Christ as our risen Lord and Savior and commune with Him and each other around the Lord’s table. If you listen real close, you might even feel the shout of praise as it encircles the planet!

Then, after worship, take time to join the global Church. You might want to join in on a CROP Hunger Walk in your community [Check out www.cropwalkonline.org to find one near you] to help fight global hunger, or, you might want to go online to YouTube and watch videos of the global church engaging in worship. There’s some really powerful videos posted out there! Either way, don’t miss this global experience. It’ll shrink your world right before your eyes, and help you discover how huge and awesome our God really is.

Begin your celebration right now. Watch this music video inspired by Newsboys’ song, “He Reigns.”


Surrender

The fugitive on the run: it’s the mainstay of almost every cop show on TV. In the end, the criminal is either shot down or is captured and led away in handcuffs.

Eight years ago I witnessed this scenerio unfold in real life. A friend of mine with marital troubles got caught up in drug abuse, which escalated into a series of breaking and enterings in the greater Lima area. He was a fugitive on the run. Everything was breaking apart and life seemed like it was running out of options. That’s when the old saying, “You can run, but you can’t hide” came true. He stopped by my office to confess his crimes when the police tracked him down, arrested him, and led him away in handcuffs. Now he sits in prison, reclaiming his life, thanking God that he stopped running and surrendered when he did. Life could have gotten a lot worse if he hadn’t.

There’s a book in the Bible about a fugitive on the run. It’s the book of Jonah. (You know, the whole Jonah and the whale story made popular by the Veggie Tales movie a couple of years ago.) The story of Jonah isn’t a story about a guy running from the cops, but a story about a guy running from God and his destiny in life. God wanted Jonah to share His word of forgiveness and second chances with the city of Nineveh, the enemy of Israel. (It’s the same message He offers all of us!) What did Jonah do? He ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

Running away is a common method that people use to deal with problems. People run from marriage, from commitment, from confronting problems. Yet, where does running get you other than a life spent always looking over your shoulder. Jonah found that out, so did my friend from Lima.

There is another way out. It’s called surrender. Sure, most of us don’t like to lose control. We think of surrendering as being like placed in handcuffs…loss of freedom and self reliance. Yet sometimes, surrendering is the only way to get life back on track.

Here’s the gospel truth. God doesn’t want you or me to live life on the run. He wants us to surrender ourselves to Him only so that we can be set free to live the life we were meant to live. That’s what the famous saying, “Let go, and let God” is all about.

I have found that when I have surrendered my life: my finances, my job, my marriage, my ambitions, my dreams, my future to God, that’s when He has worked through me the most. I have been blessed and I’ve blessed others in the process. It’s all about living faith outside of the box.

Carrie Underwood’s hit song, “Jesus Take the Wheel” is a great example of what true surrender is all about. Watch the YouTube video and find out for yourself.


Father, Forgive Them…

“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

Those words… I can’t get them out of my head. Those words… they haunt me. They confuse me. They awaken me. They make my heart pound. They give me life! They are the words of ultimate love. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus spoke those words as he hung naked on the cross. Roman soldiers had just driven spikes into his hands and feet. He was in pain, real pain. Yet, the source of his pain was not just that he was being executed, it was because he loved those who had placed him there. In this moment of agony, Jesus wasn’t thinking about himself. He was thinking about the ones he loved.

Who were they? His mother, Mary and the disciples, I’m sure. Yet more importantly these words were spoken about the Roman soldiers who had beat him, stripped him, and left him on the cross to die. They were spoken of the angry mob who cussed him out with every four letter word possible. Yet, Jesus did not hate them. He loved them. And here’s the real clincher. Those words that Jesus spoke from the cross, weren’t meant for just those gathered there on the hill called the Skull. They were meant for you and for me too.

You see, those words that Jesus spoke, “Father, forgive them,” they were the words that Jesus had been waiting to say all of his life. They were/are the words of salvation. This was the purpose of Jesus’ life…to speak these words from the cross. Here Jesus took my sin, your sin, and the world’s sin and washed them away with the power of God’s love. These words are simply incredible! They are the hope of the world. They are the life of the world. They are God’s love for the world.

My prayer is that these words will grab hold of you. I hope they echo in you and that you can’t get them out of your head. I hope they change you forever!

More importantly, I hope these words get passed on to a friend, a neighbor, a family member who needs to hear them most. Email a link this page to someone you love. Help them discover the power of these words for themselves. Amen.


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